Allman Brothers Light Up the Beacon Theatre
Allman Brothers Band
New York, New York
March 20-31, April 5-8, 2007
The Allman Brothers have always done what they had to do. Whether it's sleeping in abandoned buildings to save money in their struggling days (as recounted in the liner notes of their newest archival release), or fighting their way through internecine battles in the eighties, nineties and new millennium, this seminal Southern rock band hasn't just survived: they've persevered.
When it's been absolutely necessary, ABB has reinvented itself. The survivors exorcised the grief stemming from the loss of original members Duane Allman and Berry Oakley by revamping their lineup and their sound in the early 1970s. Earlier during this decade, with the ouster of the man (Dickey Betts) who had fronted them so bravely at this difficult time, the current septet revivified their aesthetic legitimacy (not to mention their commercial viability), and their recent two-week run at the Beacon Theatre is a testament to their continuing refusal to stagnate.
Clearly demonstrating a growing confidence from his tenure in Eric Clapton's band (the young musician's body language alone spoke volumes as he often led the band back on stage), Derek Trucks carried the load the night of March 30th due to Warren Haynes' reported illness (the latter soloed little and sang less). Trucks' playing on "Mountain Jam found him quoting Coltrane, King Curtis and Grateful Dead's "The Eleven before handing things off to Gregg Allman for a quick run-through of "Turn On Your Lovelight.
The precocious guitarist appears to have developed a very deep connection to Allman's greatest songs: his spotlight on "Dreams had an explosive quality the late Duane Allman would envy, while his solo on Saturday night's "Whipping Post was simply astounding in its power (the addition of a second amp notwithstanding).
Besides bearing the band's name, Gregg Allman stands as a symbol of The Brothers' continued vigor. If the set lists are drawn upat least in partto maximize the strength of his voice, then the throaty sinuous singing he did both nights is a measure of the success of such programming. ABB changed things up for themselves and their fans at the Beacon this year, sequeing from "Don't Want You No More to "Ain't My Cross to Bear with a performance of "Wasted Words, followed in quick succession by "Come and Go Blues. This musical collage constituted a seamless exhibition of style taken to even further heights in the band's improvisation.
The famous instrumental "Jessica has been retooled in the dual guitar style of The Brothers' original lineup, as has "Les Brers in A Minor. When played by the current lineup, both of these Dickey Betts' compositions carry the dramatic edge of "Hot 'Lanta, a prime instrumental from At Fillmore East. With the exception of Gregg's son Devonwho sang tentatively and couldn't keep up the pace on guitar one night but redeemed himself the next the Allmans' guests this weekend all served the music, in contrast to last year's celebrity parade.
Junior Mack, from Jaimoe's Jass Band, played crisply on "Key to the Highway. Soulive's guitarist Erick Krasno was inspired in his two turns as was Susan Tedeschi: Derek's wife reaffirmed herself as a more than merely creditable bluesperson in her own right as she proffered a heated solo on Bobby Bland's "Lost Lover Blues after a merrily-chirping "Loving You Is Sweeter. For the Friday encore, Tedeschi harmonized ever so soulfully (though somewhat raggedly) on Derek & The Dominos' "AnyDay with bassist Oteil Burbridge.
The highlights of the March 31st show were the stuff of legend. ABB's interpolation of Grateful Dead's "The Other One inside their own "Black Hearted Woman, with "Jessica right on its heels, was a tour de force more impressive than the primal percussion segment the night before (where Oteil sat at a kit in a successful four-man fight against the inertia that afflicts drum solos). The Allmans were a collective improvisational dynamo during this first set interlude, making another statement later Saturday night that they are without equal in contemporary rock through the Latinesque jam section of "Desdemona, moments before a joyously feverish romp through "No One To Run With.
The sound quality on this occasion, as throughout both shows, was much improved over recent Beacon runs. There was more separation of the instruments and more bottom to boot, making it easy to distinguish Burbridge's bass lines and clearly catch the saucy falsetto Gregg uncorked on "Trouble No More.